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Passenger treatment to be fairer under Government proposals

Will changes bring fairer system for airline passengers?

The Government is proposing changes to the current EU Denied Boarding Regulations (EC261). Aviation Consumer Policy Reform consultation.  These regulations, in place since February 2005, entitle passengers to significant rights if their flight is delayed, cancelled or they are denied boarding. Travellers are entitled to fixed amounts, depending on the length of the flight and delay or cancellation.

The Government proposes to change this to allow claims for compensation based on the length of the flight delay and linked to the cost of travel. Currently this varies from 2 hours late for trips up to 1500km up to 4 or more hours late trips over 3,500km. Rates range from 125 Euros up to 600 Euros.

I believe the current system buys into the ‘compensation culture’. Genuine redress and goodwill gestures should be proportional to the amount spent but the current regulations do not take this into account and therefore low cost airlines are hardest hit. A fairer system for both business and consumers has to be a good thing. Although it may save airlines money the devil will be in the detail of any changes. Increases would risk increases in fares. It looks set to be percentages in line with rail and ferries. But the savings the airline make need to be spent on improvements for consumers not line the pockets of the airline shareholders.

ADR in the airline sector

The Government is also considering making Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mandatory for airlines. Currently there are two voluntary schemes in the airline sector. Consumers can take a complaint to an ADR provider and the company is bound by the decision, although the consumer isn’t.

Consumer bodies such as Which? have been calling for ADR in the airline sector to be mandatory for some years. In the CAA consultation on ADR in October 2020 Which? said

“… the CAA must ensure it makes the existing ADR schemes work better for passengers. The regulator should step up scrutiny of existing ADR bodies, and ensure greater transparency for the complaints handling process. It must also improve its requirements for data reporting and encourage airlines to act on their complaints data.”

Both Which? and I have previously recommended that the ADR provider be an ombudsman as this is appointed and monitored to a higher standard than other ADR provider schemes. (See Further information about ADR below.)

Airline Travel Assistance

There are also proposals to improve the travel experience for disabled travellers including by ensuring that travel assistance is always free and removing charges for wheelchairs and mobility equipment. I welcomed the proposed changes, saying that in general the proposals will bring greater equality to all travellers.

Further information about ADR

See More Ombudsman Omnishambles: The UK ADR landscape 20 months on… by Helen Dewdney and Marcus Williamson. February 2018 and Appendix J. This is an extract from the minutes of the Ombudsman Association Executive Committee meeting, 5 May 2017 that demonstrates how the standards required to be an ombudsman are higher than for other ADR providers.

For more information on  see ADR research, articles, investigations, consultation responses and reports. over the last 7 years.

CAA launches consultation and tells no-one… consultation into ADR. CAA hadn’t informed stakeholders.

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Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO talks to The Complaining Cow

I talk with former CEO of Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), Leon Livermore, in a series of exclusive interviews. In the first one we discussed his achievements and challenges at CTSI. In the second we spoke about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the criticisms of CTSI regarding monitoring and approval of providers. Today we discuss his criticisms of Government and what should be done.

Leon in his kitchen

Leon Livermore’s Criticisms of Government

In the Ombudsman Omnishambles reports, BEIS was heavily criticised for its “soft touch” and not doing enough to improve the ADR landscape. So, I asked Leon what his criticism of BEIS would be. He spoke more of Government as a whole rather than BEIS per se. He was then on a bit of a roll! He names the criticisms as:

  • A lack of clear coherent consumer strategy across Government
  • There’s a lack of proper joined up regulatory strategy across Government. He gave the example of horsemeat and although a consumer protection issue they were told that technically it is a food issue and they couldn’t talk to the Consumer Minister about it. He called for the Consumer Minister to work across government. “So yes, you might have to deal with many departments but let’s have the Consumer Minister actually being a Consumer Minister being that clear and responsible person where every single issue related to the consumer goes through that.”
  • “They need to stop throwing things at Local Government” The CTSI obtained all the pieces of legislation from the Chambers of Commerce. There were 256 pieces of legislation, the majority of which had come in since austerity. “Stop it. Stop that”. He calls for the Government to be honest and say that they are giving a statutory framework and not statutory duties. He calls on the Government to be honest about not being able to enforce it all.
  • Lastly, he wants the Government to stop shying away from difficult conversations. With a problem in how the country tackles enforcement, Leon looks at enforcement through product, place and people. Place, local government look at licensing if it happens in an area but most consumer protection is not like that anymore.
  • He uses Whirlpool again as an example of a elongated and complicated supply chain issue that is not restricted to product. The horsemeat issue wasn’t even in this country but the UK was a victim of food fraud. He points out that the wrong place to intervene in the market surveillance and customer safety is in shops but the resources go to the local level and criminals can easily cross boundaries.

What does Leon think should be done?

Leon acknowledges that we won’t get structural reform but has told the UK Government that it often advises a lot of countries on regulatory reform and regulatory structures but has have never advised any country to have a system like ours! You can’t have accountability for something like Whirlpool remaining with a poor council. “Stick the funding and accountability centrally and the delivery locally”, he says. This of course makes sense when you look at how consumers shopping habits and the development of businesses have changed. Believing this model to start to make sense, he wants the funding to be apportioned appropriately.

He wants this to come through in the Consumer Command Paper but does not want it to be lost in the cry for localism. Decisions should be made at a local level because, as he rightly points out, you wouldn’t want a Parish Council making decisions about a motorway but they do decide on footpaths. This is an area he believes that strong leadership is needed (like many others I would say!).

Few cases are taken to court because of the funding structure, we talked about the most recent one being the Birmingham Trading Standards and the Tesco strawberries! Local authorities just can’t take the legal action and it should be done centrally.

In short, there is a mechanism for working with local Trading Standards, so let’s use it.

He talked at length about how this could work and interestingly said that it was not about funding, they are used to funding go up and down but the “abject failure to set out a coherent strategy that says this is what we want to see from consumer protection and this is what we want to see from our regulators locally and nationally delivering on that.”

Former CTSI CEO discusses what his criticisms of Government are in relation to consumer protection

 

The priorities for consumers

Leon questions the priority given to consumers. It was four years ago that Leon gave evidence in Parliament about consumer protection post EU exit and three years that we had the Green Paper but we still hadn’t hadn’t had the Command Paper at the time of the interview. The announcement was released today, the  Covid aside, and making allowances for it, we are all consumers, we all spend money. Informed and confident consumers are really good for the economy.

This is underpinned by high quality information, businesses who know and understand their obligations, transparency in the system and really good quality regulation and principle based.

Having met regulators from other countries Leon believes that ours are amongst the best, the skills and competence we have are excellent. But it is just incumbent on the political senior leadership of this country to give it direction. This is what we want the system to look like, this is what we want it to deliver and this is the resource we will put into it. You as the deliverers are responsible for delivering it but it needs to be clear.

Leon can forsee another Whirlpool, Grenfell or horsemeat scandal if the strategy is not got right, so Trading Standards can’t intervene.

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore talks about the lack of priority for the consumer

 

Any advice for the new CTSI CEO?

Leon says simply that he should be in his own person and enjoy the role which has such a good social purpose with an excellent team.

He advises John Herriman, his successor, to use all the expertise and support around him. He even conceded that people like me who “moan at us but moan for the right reasons” are helpful to the CTSI cause. Although, I prefer the words “complain” and “challenge”!

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore provides some advice for his successor

 

And just what did Leon think of The Complaining Cow?

Having been a thorn in Leon’s side for a number of years, the question had to be asked… what did he really think?

Well, he never opened my emails on the way home and always waited until the morning! That amused me. But he said that, as a CEO, he didn’t want people to tell him he was right when he was wrong and wants people who don’t let go! He says that we need people like me “Who cut the crap!”

Leon strongly believes that with me as a passionate campaigner and him as a pragmatist that there will be an opportunity to change things and that we would not be far apart in what we want to see happen.

Saying the same thing but in different ways! Who knew?!

Although we still differ on some things in ADR!

Whilst at CTSI, former CEO Leon Livermore tells Helen Dewdney what he really thought of her...

 

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